Monday, September 7, 2009

Rubric for evaluation of reflection portfolios

Please note that I like to think of written work holistically rather than breaking it up into varying categories and analyzing the categories. I believe that the latter approach encourages mediocrity. I don't want to place bounds on your creativity that way. Nonetheless, I understand you want some sense of how you will be evaluated, so here are some categories and elaboration of what I mean for each.

Purely Writing (50%)

At root the issue is whether I enjoyed reading the piece. Of course, some of that may be me. My younger son had a few of his buddies sleep over Friday night. They stayed up till God knows when playing video games, so they hung around till late Saturday afternoon rather than going home politely in the early morning. You can't control that sort of thing. I'm mentioning it to note here that no matter how brilliantly written the piece, there can be an idiosyncratic element to the reader reaction.

With that, here are some more specific criteria that matter for reader enjoyment.

* There is a story that flows. If there are jumps in the narrative, they are demarcated in an obvious way. Otherwise sentences connect to each other.
* There is a sense of depth, of exploration, and of something gained from having made the journey. This doesn't mean you have to make some ultimate conclusion. It might be that you see two issues that conflict with one another and you don't see how to resolve the conflict. That can be the conclusion. The story doesn't need to be a neat package with a pretty bow. It does need to create a feeling of making progress in understanding the issues at hand.
* You appear in the story somehow. How did you come to the ideas in the piece? Is there some connection between these ideas and your own life? In other words, please do make it personal. Do note that personal doesn't mean intimate. Unless you feel you have a compelling reason to write about it otherwise, don't write about the connection between your subject and your boyfriend or girlfriend. Childhood experiences, however, are in bounds because they are apt to shape your thinking.
* There is a sense of craft in the telling. The order that ideas are presented matters and it appears that there has been some thought in coming up with that. (The opposite extreme of this, which you sometimes see in a student's response to an essay question on an exam, I'd call an "idiot dump," where the students does a stream of consciousness generation of every thought that might be relevant to the question at hand. Idiot dumps are painful to read.) The writing has a feeling that each sentence belongs and the word choice has been well considered. This can take years to cultivate. Here I'm noting it matters, not expecting you to be a professional writer just yet.
* There are no distractors. A claim of fact that is not supported by a reference is a distractor. An inappropriate word choice can be a distractor. (I'm sympathetic on this one especially with homophones, since I tend to read by how it sounds in my head and anticipate the ideas that will be coming up next rather than carefully worrying about the text on the screen.) Obvious misspelling can be a distractor. Errors do happen and some go undetected. But one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel so if you've put in some serious thought on the piece do proofread to at the least purge the worst of these from your piece.

Connecting to Course Themes (25%)

This one should be pretty obvious. Part of the reason for the reflections is so you can make connections between course ideas and your own thinking. By being explicit about those it becomes more likely that you'll learn what we are studying with some depth and that you'll retain these ideas after the course has concluded. You do not have to write on the themes I suggest. You may choose your own theme. But you still need to connect back to the ideas in the course and if you do choose your own theme that becomes a larger imperative.

Growth as a Writer (25%)

There are two thoughts here. The first is about learning by doing or what one might call growth en passant. Somewhere around week 12 or 13 I'll want you to write a reflection about the prior reflections so you'll have a sense of this. The other idea is to begin to come to terms with strengths and weaknesses in your writing. Whether to focus on embellishing your strengths or improving on your weakness, some of what you try with the writing is a deliberate effort for improvement. That too should be part of the reflection on reflections and will get you to be a participant in the ideas of Ericsson, et. al. When we have our one-on-ones about your reflections, some of that should be on areas of strength and weakness in the writing, so you can be deliberate with this.


  1. Prof. Arvan, Are we getting graded on all of our reflections as a whole at the end of the semester? I recall that during class, someone mentioned having each of us choose the best one of the first three, then the best one of the second three, and so on to create our "portfolio of reflections" to turn in for grading. Your post seems to indicate that we will be turning in all of our reflections for a grade?

  2. No. I believe we agreed that you'd choose one selection from the first 3 weeks, another from the next 3, and then your two best other pieces.

  3. That sounds good. I just wanted to clarify. Thanks.